She’s been on safari, taken a balloon ride and won a dancing trophy, but what’s next for this Sprowston grandmother?

PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 November 2012

Irene Whitmore, adventurous octogenarian.  Photo: Bill Smith

Irene Whitmore, adventurous octogenarian. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

When Irene Whitmore lost her husband after half a century of marriage, she was adamant she wouldn’t let the grief of his death and the 20 years of caring for him stop her from enjoying life.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

- Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, which means that it will continue to get worse as it develops.

Early symptoms include:

- Minor memory problems

- Difficulty saying the right words

- Disorientation

- Personality changes

- Behavioural changes

- Disorientation

- Delusions, believing things that are untrue

- A belief that you have done or experienced something that never happened

So, in the three years since Alzheimer’s disease took her beloved Bob, the inspirational great-grandmother from Sprowston has devoted her efforts to making sure she enjoys life to the full.

From going on a Kenyan safari, to taking a balloon ride over Norwich, and even winning a medal in an international dancing competition, the 82-year-old can now say she has done it all.

But the grandmother-of-seven said that during all she has done in the last two years, including tea at the Ritz Hotel in London and a glamourous photo shoot, she has always had her late husband on her mind.

The pair met on a blind date in Norwich and married in north London in 1957 when Mrs Whitmore was visiting from her north London home.

Irene cared for her husband at home for 15 years. So what support is available for people like her?

David Todd, chief executive of the Norfolk and District Carers’ Forum, said when people are caring for their loved ones they can feel very isolated.

He said: “It’s rather like having a conversation with someone they don’t know very well.”

The Norfolk and District Carers’ Forum provide practical support for people who find themselves as carers.

He said people can attend carer support groups as well as receive advice on money available to make caring more manageable.

“We try to encourage carers to join a support group and keep in touch with them.

“It can be frightening and the carers can be anxious and distressed and confused themselves, so we can provide some support for that.”

A carers drop in group meet on the last Thursday of each month from 12:30 – 2:30pm at the Charing Cross Centre,on St. John Maddermarket in Norwich.

For more information on the drop in, call 01603 219924 or email

The Alzheimer’s Society, Age Uk, and the Norfolk and District Carers’ Forum all provide support.

Mrs Whitmore cared for her husband, who previously worked for Norwich City Council, at home for 15 out of the 20 years that he suffered from the disease.

He spent the last five years of his life in a care home, before dying in 2009.

Mrs Whitmore said: “With his Alzheimer’s he really was in his own world; I lost him a long time before he died.

“One of the worst things he said to me was when we were at home one day and he said ‘can I ask you a question’, and he said ‘will you marry me?’.

“I said we’ve been married for 45 years Bob, and he said ‘well that’s a relief’.”

She said that after he died, she didn’t like being on her own.

“It was lonely and I thought I could be sat indoors and on my own, or outside, doing something”.

On her 80th birthday the mother-of-three took a balloon ride over the city where her children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild grew up, and in August of this year she fulfilled two more life-long ambitions.

After learning to dance the waltz three months earlier, the 82-year-old entered an international dance competition at the famous Winter Gardens dance hall in Blackpool, where she came seventh out of 16 in the over-50s category.

And in August she went to Keyna for a safari, something she had always wanted to do since she was a child.

She said: “I did everything that the rest of my family did on the trip, so much so that my daughter said I really wore her out.”

Her daughter, Janet Hawkins, 54, from Spixworth, said she is proud of her mum’s strength and achievements.

She added: “I want to let others know about all that she’s done.

“She nursed dad for as long as she did and now has done of these amazing things, rather than just sitting in front of the TV.”

But there are still two more things Mrs Whitmore wants to do – to go on the luxurious Orient Express train and dance with the professional dancer Anton du Beke.

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